By Josh Moon
Alabama Political Reporter
The State Board of Education plans to find out who leaked anonymous allegations about a candidate for the State’s superintendent position in July.
Board members on Thursday passed a resolution that calls on the Alabama Ethics Commission and the Alabama Attorney General’s Office to investigate an anonymous letter alleging Craig Pouncey, currently the superintendent of Jefferson County Schools and a longtime fixture in state education, didn’t author his doctoral dissertation.
In addition, and with a surprising amount of personal emails attached as evidence, the letter claimed Pouncey, who was then working at the State Department of Education, used State personnel working under him to write the dissertation for him.
Now, the State school board wants to know how the anonymous letter’s author came about retrieving those “personal and confidential” emails.
“This is the first step in a process, and we’re taking it because we need to be sure that this sort of thing never happens again,” said SBOE vice-chairwoman Yvette Richardson. “This resolution simply asks the entities named at the bottom (the Ethics Commission and the AG’s Office) to act on this and clarifies our support, as the board, for this action. It tells them that we will cooperate with any investigation.”
The anonymous letter was forwarded to the Ethics Commission, and the Commission chairman, Hugh Evans, inexplicably did little to hide the investigation into the claims. That, despite the fact the SBOE was days away from public interviews of superintendent candidates, of which Pouncey had been a clear favorite for the job.
Following the release of the letter, and then the release of a letter by Evans – which was first made public by The Alabama Political Reporter – the board narrowly voted to hire Michael Sentance over Pouncey.
The selection of Sentance, along with the shady process in which he was hired, created a firestorm within State education circles, and many of the State’s teachers voiced their displeasure to board members.
That was enough to prompt Thursday’s resolution, which passed 7-1. The lone dissenting vote was from Mobile’s Matthew Brown, who said he had concerns about the legal ramifications contained in the resolution.
“We’re directing other entities to offer an opinion on something and I’m not sure we have that authority,” Brown said during the meeting.
Immediately, Richardson, who sponsored the resolution, noted that the SBOE wasn’t demanding anything. Instead, it is requesting an investigation and confirming its cooperation.
As for the original complaint, it was cleared up almost as quickly as it was filed. The two staffers who allegedly wrote Pouncey’s dissertation submitted statements detailing their involvement and making it clear Pouncey wrote his dissertation.
Despite board members’ insistence that their vote for Sentance had little to do with the allegations against Pouncey, in a previous vote to determine which six candidates would advance to public interviews, Pouncey received the most votes from SBOE members. Sentance didn’t finish in the top half.